Cultural Maturity—The Basic Concept
See The Cultural Maturity website for a detailed look at the concept of Cultural Maturity.
A Brief Overview:
The concept of Cultural Maturity provides big-picture perspective for understanding the times in which we live and what the future is requiring of us. It describes how challenges we now face are requiring not just new ideas, but a fundamentally greater sophistication in how we think, act, and relate. It addresses what that new and greater sophistication involves, what it will ask of us, and also how it might be possible. The changes it describes impact how we think and act in every part of our lives, from the most personal questions of identity and relationship to broadly encompassing concerns of effective governance and global well-being. Arguably, if the concept of Cultural Maturity is not basically correct, it is hard to be legitimately hopeful about our human future.
While most thinking about the future focuses largely on the technological, the concept of Cultural Maturity addresses more specifically what it means to be human in our time. The concept is a formal notion within Creative Systems Theory, a comprehensive theory of change, purpose, and interrelationship in human systems developed by Dr. Charles Johnston and colleagues at the Institute for Creative Development over the last thirty-five years. The concept of Cultural Maturity challenges the notion that Modern Age institutions and ways of thinking are end points and ideals—only needing further refinement. It describes how our future human well-bing hinges on a essential next chapter in our human story—a critical kind of “growing up” as a species.
The concept of Cultural Maturity helps us in three primary ways. First, it provides a new guiding narrative in a time when stories we’ve traditionally relied on—from the American Dream to our various political and religious allegiances—serve us less and less well. Second, it identifies needed new skills and capacities that we can practice. Third, it assists us in developing new kinds of concepts that will be needed if we are to make effective decisions going forward. (The concept of Cultural Maturity Cultural Maturity involves not just new ideas, but new ways of thinking—specific cognitive changes. Understanding those cognitive changes helps us develop new kinds of conceptual frameworks.)
Cultural Maturity is not as easy a notion as the simple phrase “growing up” might suggest. But most of us get—whether consciously or not—that something like what the concept of Cultural Maturity describes will be necessary. Certainly, we appreciate that a sane and healthy future will require that at least we be more intelligent in our choices. We recognize that dealing with nuclear proliferation in an ever more technologically complex and globally interconnected world will be very difficult unless we can bring greater insight to how we humans relate. Similarly, people recognize that addressing the energy crisis, or environmental concerns more generally, will demand a newly sophisticated engagement of hard realities. People’s more immediate frustrations also show a beginning appreciation of the need for greater maturity. With growing frequency, people today respond with disgust—appropriately—at the common childishness of political debate, and at how rarely the media appeal to more than adolescent impulses.
And most of us also recognize something further. We appreciate that it is essential, given the magnitude and the subtlety of the challenges we face and the potential consequences of our decisions, that our choices be not just intelligent, but wise. Cultural Maturity is about realizing the greater nuance and depth of understanding—we could say wisdom—that human concerns of every sort today demand of us.
We get a first glimpse of Cultural Maturity, certainly its necessity, with the recognition that human culture in times past has functioned like a parent in the lives of individuals. It has provided us with our rules to live by, and, in the process, a sense of identity and connectedness with other. Such cultural absolutes have also protected us from life’s very real uncertainties and immense complexities. In today’s increasingly multi-faceted world, such guideposts serve us less and less well.
The implications of this loss are Janus-faced—at once it brings disturbing absence and possibility. Combined with how our world has become more risk-filled and complicated, this weakening of familiar rules can leave us dangerously overwhelmed and disoriented. And at the same time it reveals options that before could not have been considered.
Importantly, this is not just new possibility in some “anything-goes” sense. More than just a loss of guideposts is involved. The concept of Cultural Maturity describes how the “growing up” that generates today’s loss of past absolutes also creates the potential for new, more mature ways of understanding and relating. It involves specific cognitive changes that offer the possibility of more systemic and complete ways of being in and making sense of our worlds. Culturally mature perspective helps us make sense of the easily confusing times in which we live. It also helps clarify the human tasks before us and the capacities needed to engage them successfully. And it points toward needed changes not just in what we understand, but how we understand.
We are often in denial about the magnitude of the challenges we face today. Or if we begin to step beyond denial, we become vulnerable to either hopeless and cynicism or naive wishful thinking, whether of the techno-utopian or spiritual easy answer sort. The concept of Cultural Maturity makes clear that effectively addressing today’s new challenges will stretch us profoundly. But it also offers both authentic hope and concrete guidance as we look to the future.
In the end, the concept of Cultural Maturity is about leadership, though this in a particular sense. Its concern is not just good leadership, but the specific kind of leadership the future will require. It also about leadership understood most expansively. It is about what the future demands of all of us—personally and in associations small and large. What it entails is pertinent to leading nations or organizations, but just as much it concerns making good choices as lovers, friends, or parents. Ultimately, it is about leadership in the choices we make as a species.
The purpose of this blog is to bring culturally mature perspective to the important issues of our time, and, in the process, to support the broader evolution of culturally mature understanding and culturally mature decision-making our future will increasingly require.
The Cultural Maturity website looks in greater detail at the concept of Cultural Maturity.
For briefer overview reflections see: